Tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your title & what do you do?
I’m Sam DiGennaro and I’m the founder and CEO of DiGennaro Communications, a strategic communications agency based in New York. We oversee public relations and marketing communications programs for some of the world’s leading Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 brands. We have roots servicing the advertising and media agencies; while we’re always grateful for the place from which we’ve come, we’re now partners to well-known tech companies, publishing platforms, marketing organizations, and consumer brands.
What did you do before your current role and what led you to where you are now?
I’m a native New Yorker (proud of it!) and have worked in the agency world for almost three decades, including leadership roles at J. Walter Thompson Worldwide and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Having witnessed and experienced—ever since the beginning of my career—the uphill climb women in this business often have to endure to achieve success, it was always my desire to create the type of organization I would want to work for: one that provides mentorship and an unconditional growth track for young women; and a jungle gym of opportunities in a collaborative culture for super smart, strategic, creative, and ambitious men and women, alike. So, that's what I did!
How would you define the role of PR for an agency?
We provide many services for our clients—from the development of executive branding and messaging/narrative architecture to thought leadership, crisis management, content creation, and social media strategy. The role our agency serves is unique to each and every client depending on that client’s individual challenges and objectives. DGC is committed to creating customized approaches—a bespoke road to success—for each of our brands/clients. We’re not one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter types. I believe that any PR firm worth its salt must be willing to listen actively and be responsive to its clients to help deliver against each of their business objectives in creative and impactful ways.
What are the benefits you offer an agency versus handling their PR internally?
Whether it’s an ad agency or a tech company or a consumer brand, every business today must keep a laser focus on delivering results in their respective worlds every minute of every day. I believe as a devoted partner with the vast experience, wealth of resources and deep bench of talent that we provide, we can help our clients achieve success in their marketing and communications objectives in a way that often goes beyond the capabilities of an internal PR team typically focused on the day-to-day and often already overextended. As an external resource, we maintain a dispassionate and fully objective perspective and can serve as a litmus of sorts to help pressure-test messaging, positioning, story angles, and general communications strategies. Finally, there’s the added value that a client can receive an entire team of people with different specializations and skills for the cost of hiring one full-time employee.
What are the key skills required to thrive in this role?
The willingness to listen and to problem solve; the creativity and passion to devise one-of-a-kind solutions to challenges and goals; deep accountability; and the hunger to deliver real business results.
What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? And the most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of my job is finding and retaining Rockstar talent to deliver the very best ideas, solutions, service and results to our clients. All day. Every day. The most challenging aspect of the job for the DGC team at large is staying two steps ahead of our already fast-moving clients. Fortunately, we have the womanpower and manpower—a team that boasts an incredible diversity of experience, knowledge, and talent—to service each of our partners with the utmost energy, devotion, and focus. And the most rewarding part? Actually delivering those results for our clients—which at the end of the day is the promise we’ve built our business on over the last 14 years, and the mission that drives all of us at DGC.
How has the role evolved since you first began working in the field?
Well, not to date myself, but a lot has changed in the last three decades. When I started out in the business, marketing communications was a much less complicated job; it was a weekly (or daily, at worst) news cycle, not a real-time, up-to-the-minute 140-character reporting cycle. There was no internet, no social media, no mobile—barely even email. There were three TV networks and mighty daily newspapers that ruled every market, and we were still buying our music on cassette tapes. More media options and more technology and a communications landscape that changes literally by the day, as well as a news cycle that shifts by the millisecond, means we all have to be on our toes at every moment and ready to change on a dime, absolutely. That said, the essential job of a PR person is the same as it's always been: to serve the client with the most clear-sighted, creative, credible, and impactful communications support.
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about PR?
Ah, the $10,000 question! Well, clearly PR gets a bum rap sometimes. We’ve been labeled spin masters, flacks, guns for hire—and worse! Some people have prejudicial perceptions of us as “dial for dollar” publicists and tacticians; not as the value-add strategists that many of us are. Needless to say, I believe we serve not only a highly respectable but also an indispensable role in service of our diverse roster of clients, many of whom do business on a global scale. Companies that have partnered with, employed and benefitted from the work of professionals who do what we do—as well as our many connections out there in the media world, including some of the top journalists in the business—understand what we do, respect us and rely on us.
What advice would you give to a newbie?
Watch, listen, and learn—from everyone, everything, and in every situation. Remember that every person you come into contact with in business and otherwise—every positive experience and every disappointing one—has something to teach you. It’s okay to make mistakes. As long as you embrace them with a sense of humility, curiosity and accountability. Never make the same mistake twice and always be grateful! These life moments constitute learning opportunities that will help you be the best at what you do and be the best person you can be.